The Importance of an Echocardiogram During My Physical

Heart problems can occur at any age. An echocardiogram allows doctors to see how well the heart is functioning and whether there are problems. Here's what you need to know:

Heart Basics

Your heart is a highly sophisticated pump that is driven by electrical activity. It consists of four chambers. Valves connect the chambers and open or close to allow blood to move through the heart or prevent it from flowing backward. The electrical impulses cause muscle contractions that pump the blood. The four heart valves open with each heartbeat and then close in the pause between beats.

Why Would I Need an Echocardiogram?

An echocardiogram is used to diagnose certain heart conditions. If a valve is too stiff or doesn't close properly, it may cause you to be short of breath or have chest pain. An echocardiogram can also show certain kinds of congenital heart defects – even before the baby is born. An echocardiogram can give doctors information about your heart size, pumping strength, damage to the heart muscle, valve problems and heart defects.

What is an Echocardiogram?

Unlike X-rays, which use radioactive material to take pictures of your body, an echocardiogram uses sound waves to produce images. The test is used in real time, which means the doctor can actually watch as the heart beats and see how the structures function. For example, an echocardiogram can show if the valves in the heart are not closing completely. There are several different kinds of echocardiograms:

  • Transthoracic Echocardiogram - This is the standard and most common echocardiogram. The technician spreads a gel on your test and places a transducer – the device that produces an ultrasound beam – against your chest. As the transducer records the sound waves, they are converted into images on a computer. Sometimes you may need to have an injection of a special dye, so the heart structures show more clearly.
  • Doppler Echocardiogram - A Doppler echocardiogram is typically used with both transthoracic and transesophageal echocardiograms to show how the blood moves through your heart. The Doppler picks up sound waves produced by moving blood and shows the speed and direction of the blood flow.
  • Stress Echocardiogram - Sometimes heart symptoms only occur with exercise. In those cases, you'll exercise by walking on a treadmill or riding a stationary bike during the echocardiogram. For those who are unable to exercise, medications can mimic the effects of physical activity.

Preparation and Recovery

In most cases, preparation for an echocardiogram is minimal. For a stress echocardiogram, you may need to wear good walking shoes to walk on the treadmill. Your doctor will probably tell you not to eat anything for several hours before to prevent you from vomiting during the test. You might feel a pulling sensation as the electrodes are removed. In most cases, there is no downtime.

If you or someone in your family has a history of heart problems, an echocardiogram can provide useful information. Talk to your doctor about the need for an echocardiogram with your next physical. Please contact us for any questions or to schedule an appointment. Fill out the form on this page to request an appointment or call 212.427.2000 to learn more.

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Someone from our office will contact you as soon as possible. For immediate assistance during regular office hours, please call 212.427.2000 and select the correct prompt. If this is a medical emergency, please call 911 or visit the nearest hospital.
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